Ethiopia has held the imagination of countless people the world over for generations. It is remarkable that in the Caribbean, many of the descendants of the slaves who were brought out in bondage between the 17th and 19th centuries from West Africa, see in Ethiopia a mystical place and a spiritual home.
Ethiopia is the one and only country in all of Africa that was not a victim of colonialisation, although the Italians in the early 1930s did 'conquer' the East African country. Significantly, this incursion had the effect of heightening the awareness about Ethiopia amongst people of African descent throughout the western world.
The Ethiopia of antiquity is possessed of impressive biblical traditions, written in the ancient 'Chronicles of the Emperors'. The rulers of Ethiopia claim to be descended from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and are described as the 'conquering lion of the tribe of Judah'. The tablets of Moses, brought from Jerusalem at the founding of the dynasty, were preserved in the great city of Aksum. To this day the priests, as the descendants of the Levites, still dance at the great festivals as David danced before the ark in his youth.
"Sirius, the dogstar, hung like a beacon in the lightening dawn, soon to be absorbed into the glory of her father Ra."
There is a mystery in the story of the 'sun behind the sun', as there is a mystery in Egypt being the daughter of Ethiopia. As the sun cleared the summit of Zion, her caravan that had traveled through the night, descended into the Holy City. Several miles long it was, a wonder to behold, thousands of camels, mules and magnificent Arab steeds laden with antique gold, spikenard for the anointing of kings yet unborn, frankincense for the glory of Jehova.
Precious stones, diamonds, sapphires, and she herself riding before all this grandeur upon a giant Bactrian camel whose flanks were decorated with enormous red tassels bound in gold. Sheba, daughter of Africa, having heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, had come to pose him hard questions. And King Solomon gave unto the Queen of Sheba all her desire, whatever she asked, besides which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country.
"According to the Chronicles of the Emperors, Solomon also gave unto her a son, who was called Menelik, and he became the first emperor of Ethiopia."
This is written in the Kebra-Nagast or 'Glory of Kings' that was found amongst the treasure of St. Sophia of Constantinople before the year 325 AD.
According to this book, the biblical queen of Sheba was in fact Makeda, who ruled over Tigre and whose emissaries had traveled as far afield as India. The royal youth, King Solomon's son, was raised a prince at Aksum, and at his majority was sent to Jerusalem to receive his father's consecration. He was anointed in wonderful magnificence as sovereign of an empire which stretched 'from the river of Eqypt to the west, and from the south of Shoa to eastern India'. Solomon then sent him home and with him twenty of the sons of the nobles of Israel as Levites, priests of the most high.
Legend has it that in departing, the prince and his companions carried off the Ark of the Covenant from the temple, and crossing Egypt and the red Sea, reached Makeda's city, where the Ark was deposited. Then the religion and the laws of Israel were established by the Levites throughout the kingdom - the New Zion.
Wonderful traditions had been passed from generation to generation in the close to three thousand year-old history of the empire. One of these is the coronation ceremony as celebrated since the founding of Aksum in front of the Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion. H.I.M. (His Imperial Majesty) on horseback appears before the daughters of the ancient city, who bar his way with a length of chord. He is challenged three times by the women, after which they allow him to draw his sword and cut the chord, and then their proclamation rings out
"Verily, verily, thou art the king of Zion, son of David, son of Solomon."
The sovereign is then led to the ancient throne, known as the throne of David, where the crowning takes place. From these biblical beginnings are woven the histories of the kings. Knowledge of this highland kingdom really only made its way to the west in the 12th century - this without any clear idea of her identity, the world began to look towards Ethiopia. In 1116, a rumour began to circulate in western Europe, according to which a Christian emperor of immense wisdom and power ruled over 72 kings and over lands that lay on the way to India. This was the time of the crusades, when Frankish knights, some of them thought to be heirs of the throne of David as well, fought the Muslim armies to create a kingdom in Jerusalem. The thought of a high civilisation caught the imagination of medieval man. The land of 'Prester John' was sought.
It was known from pilgrims who visited Jerusalem, where they came into contact with Abessynian monks, that there existed a Christian kingdom called Ethiopia. Two expeditions were mounted by Franciscans in about 1289 in order to penetrate the area. They never returned. 100 years later, Venetian merchants were more successful. They reached Asmara and saw a fine basilica whose interior was completely overlaid in gold. A church in Rome was conceded to them, so as to facilitate pilgrims from Asmara, and they were granted the privilege to celebrate mass according to their rites. A window had been opened on an ancient world.
The mythical depth of the millennia-old history of Ethiopia was completely unknown to the descendants of West African slaves in the New World. If anything, the European colonial establishments of the day had no interest in teaching the colonial subjects about the history and the glory of African kingdoms.
It came therefore as a complete surprise to Caribbean people when half a world away and almost 500 years later, Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican patriot, described sometimes as a prophet, proclaimed before his death:
"Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near."
In a paper published by M. Smith, R. Augier and Rex Nettleford on the 'Rastafari' movement in Kingston, Jamaica, an interesting point is raised concerning truth. The authors remark that in social affairs it possesses two levels.
"The actual events and the statements about the actual events and statements believed to be true, are often sociologically more important than those which are true." Commenting on the center of all religious beliefs, the authors continue: "What people believe or assert emphatically, represents a social force which cannot be disposed of or merely denied."
To the Rastafari fraternity all over the world, Marcus Garvey is a major prophet, although his actual connection with the movement in its nascent stages is not at all established. That Garvey was a significant individual, a significant Caribbean man, is in itself an understatement, because what he represented in his ideals is in truth a beacon to all men.
In November of 1930, an ancient ceremony was performed one windy morning before a very old cathedral church in the city of Addis Ababa. As virgins wailed, covering their beauty in their best linen, a handsome man sliced a golden chord, and in so doing inaugurated the last reign of the 'King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah'. The man was Ras Tafari, the son of Ras Makonnen, who had been recognised as the heir to the throne of Ethiopia in the reign of empress Zawdita. In 1923, Ethiopia became a member of the League of Nations through Tafari’s efforts. He reorganised the army and put down two rebellions. In 1928, he received the title ‘Negus’ and upon the death of the empress, ascended to the throne, taking the imperial title Haile Selassie I.
In the far-away Caribbean, in Jamaica in particular, those who followed Garvey’s way of thinking opened their bibles. Could he be the one spoken of? They looked to Revelation 5:2,5:
“And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice: ‘Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?’ ... And one of the elders saith unto me: ‘Weep not. Behold, the Lion of Judah, the Root of David hath prevailed to open the book and to loose the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the Earth.”
The career of H.I.M. was followed closely by Caribbean people through his wars with fascist Italy, who was described as ‘the beast 666’. In 1941, a photograph was flashed around the world. H.I.M. had reentered his kingdom and the prophecy was fulfilled.
“And the beast was taken and with him the false prophet.” Mussolini was executed and Hitler had committed suicide. “These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.”
The concept of the divinity of the emperor as the living God was developed by several people quite independently. One could count Leonard P. Howell, Esq., a veteran of the Ashanti wars, who was the first to preach the divinity of Ras Tafari. Another was Joseph Hibbert, who was a member of the Ancient Mystic Order of Ethiopia, a Masonic brotherhood. A third was H. Archibald Dunkley, who devoted many years of research to determine whether Haile Selassie I. was the Messiah prophesied by Garvey. Ezekiel 30.1, Timothy 6, Revelation 11 and 19 and Isaiah 43 were said to have convinced him. Many others came forward to testify and to proclaim that the new covenant had arrived.
To many, this epic is just another example of how misguided people could become. To others, these are articles of their faith.
The emperor himself, as far as it is known, never acknowledged that he was viewed as much more than God's vicar on earth, but in fact as the Alpha and the Omega itself, divinity personified. He was, however, sitting on the oldest throne in Africa, if not the world. In the prime of his life, in the postwar years, before he was overtaken by senility and mutiny, he spared nothing and nobody in living up to his legend, as Adrian Boot and Michael Thomas write in their book 'Babylon on a thin wire', where they wrote:
"He certainly did not spare his own people, who died like flies, while he and his entourage of relatives and libertines spoiled themselves in Addis Ababa." As despots and dictators all know, power is derived from imagery, maintained by the projection of being a celebrity.
History, however, records and demonstrates that from the time of Osiris of Egypt, people have believed that the Gods do come down and dwell amongst us.